If your succulents are sad, looking a bit sickly, or downright dead, then this article is for you. Read the 4 tips from succulent art master, Brandi Chalker, on how to make your succulents “happy” again!
Succulents have a reputation for being impossible to kill (in fact, my business, Sunshine & Succulents, was awarded “Best Place to Get a Plant You Won’t Kill” by the SF Weekly!)… but this reputation is a bit misleading. Yes, they’ll take a bit more abuse than most plants can handle, but you’ll still have better luck with them if you understand proper care, know what signs to look for, and avoid some common mistakes.
BASIC SUCCULENT CARE:
What I’m going to describe here is care for the average succulent- i.e. most succulents you’ll find at a nursery. There are definitely outliers who require slightly different care than I’m describing here, so it’s always a good idea to look up your particular succulent online to see if it requires anything special or different.
Succulents require direct sun. Not indirect bright light, but direct rays of sun hitting the leaves of the plant. Despite how much you want it to be, the light from your skylight is not sufficient. If you can’t give your succulents at least a few hours of direct sun a day, they won’t necessarily die, but they won’t be too happy.
If you must keep your succulents indoors, you pretty much have to keep them in a window. They may still not get quite enough light, but we do the best we can. Succulents will generally be happier outside in a semi-shaded area where they can receive a few hours of direct sun per day, but not all day full sun.
How do you tell if your succulent isn’t getting enough light? They’ll let you know, if you know what to look for! Red, pink, purple, orange, and black succulents will start to lose their vibrant color and turn green after just a week or two with too little sunlight. Many succulents will also stretch out to reach for a source of sunlight. Succulents with a central stem will often appear to grow very rapidly, and may get so tall they start to fall over from their own weight. If this happens, and the leaves are spaced far apart, it’s a sign that your succulent isn’t actually growing, it’s stretching. Only if the leaf growth remains compact is it a sign that the plant is growing at a healthy rate. Rosette shaped succulents that don’t have a central stem will often start to stretch from their center, with the center leaves of a normally somewhat flat rosette starting to grow taller, like a cone.
Succulents require very little water. In fact, the reason they possess the quality of “succulence” (storing water in their plant tissues) is because succulents come from arid climates in nature and they have adapted by storing water in order to survive periods of drought. Because of this, they need to have their soil dry out completely between waterings. If a succulent’s roots stay wet continuously, they will begin to rot, and the rot will move up through the roots into the plant’s stem and leaves, eventually turning your plant into a black pile of mush.
On average, a once weekly watering is sufficient. If you live somewhere hot and the soil dries out within a day or two, you can water twice a week. During the wet winter months (when many succulents are also dormant), you will probably water less frequently, as the soil dries out less quickly.
It’s a good idea to plant succulents in containers with drainage holes. And never leave your potted succulent sitting in a dish of water, like you might do with other houseplants! If your plant’s container doesn’t have drainage holes, you will need to water very sparingly, and less frequently, otherwise the soil will stay wet for too long and you risk killing your plants.
When a succulent starts to rot, often you’ll first notice that the base leaves turn black and mushy and may be covered in what looks like mold, or the leaves turn a more transparent shade of their normal color and fall off the plant with the slightest touch. If you see any of this on your succulent, remove all of the rotting leaves immediately. Check the soil to see how wet it is; if it’s more than just slightly damp, you should unpot the succulent and let its roots air dry for a few days. Then, repot it in fresh, dry soil, and resume watering after one week. Decrease either the frequency of your watering or the amount you water each time, since you had previously been over watering your succulent. With any luck, removing the dead plant tissue and/or repotting the succulent will save the rest of the plant from rotting.
Succulents are versatile, and as long as they are sufficiently watered, can generally handle very hot temperatures. Many succulents will die if they freeze, though, since the water in their cells can freeze and burst open the cell walls, killing them. So bring your succulents indoors or cover with frost cloth if the temperature is going to drop below 32 degrees.
Planting succulents in “cactus mix” soil is important. This soil, whether you buy it in a bag or make it yourself (there are some great soil recipes online!), contains large pieces of pumice and other materials that help create air pockets in the soil, which are vital for the plants’ roots. It also allows water to flow through the soil more easily so it doesn’t stay water-logged for long. That said, many hearty succulents will grow in just about any soil or sand you plant them in!
If you’d like to learn more about succulent care, learn how to propagate succulents, or learn how to design and build a succulent terrarium, take one of our classes! We go into great detail about succulent care and propagation, and answer all of your burning questions. Then, you get to work with these amazing plants yourself, and take home a “tiny world” inside a terrarium you’ve created. With our workshop, you walk away with the confidence that you can indeed keep your plants alive!
Article Written by Brandi Chalker
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